US Charges Iran with al-Qaeda Links
By Anna Fifield for The Financial Times
The US government has accused Iran of allowing al-Qaeda operatives to funnel a “significant” amount of money through its territory to the group’s leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, making the strongest allegation yet of a link between Tehran and the terrorist network.
The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on six men that it says are operating through Iran as part of a “critical funding and facilitation network for al-Qaeda”.
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The designation was also a direct hit at the theocratic regime in Iran, said David Cohen, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
“Our sense is that this network is operating through Iranian territory with the knowledge of and at least the acquiescence of the Iranian authorities,” Mr Cohen said. “They are not operating in secret. It is pursuant to an agreement.”
The Treasury targeted Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a senior al-Qaeda facilitator who it said has been living and operating in Iran since 2005 under an agreement between the network and the Tehran regime.
It said that the Iranian authorities were allowing Mr Khalil to move both money and recruits from across the Middle East through Iran to Pakistan. He required each operative to deliver $10,000 to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, it said.
The Treasury also designated five others who were linked to former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or to al-Qaeda in Iraq, or who had helped deliver money or extremists to the network’s base in Pakistan.
They include Atiyah abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who is the network’s overall commander in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The US is also offering a $1m reward for information leading to his arrest.
The designations ban Americans from financial dealings with the men, and freeze any assets that they might have in the US.
The actions expose “Iranian support for international terrorism,” Mr Cohen said. It is the first time the US has identified signs of agreement between Iran and al-Qaeda.
Suggestions of links between Iran and al-Qaeda are often questioned because Iran’s theocratic regime is from the Shia sect of Islam while the terrorist network is entirely Sunni. Iran is said to have detained Bin Laden’s oldest son, Saad, for several years before releasing him in 2009.
But there have been persistent reports of co-operation between the two given that they share a mutual enemy: the US.
A report for the congressional anti-terrorism caucus in May said that Iran’s elite Al-Quds force, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was offering support to al-Qaeda, including helping it “counter” American interests.
In taking the action, the Treasury criticised Kuwait and Qatar for being “substantial facilitators for al-Qaeda” and for having “permissive” financial environments that allowed money to flow from both Gulf countries to Iran.
“There is a substantial amount of money flowing out of Kuwait and Qatar through Iran to al-Qaeda’s or their leadership in Pakistan for all of their activities in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area,” Mr Cohen said.
The US would work with the UN’s al-Qaeda sanctions committee to push for multilateral sanctions.